Starting Five: Boomers Two Wins from Gold

Starting Five: Boomers Two Wins from Gold

Five thoughts on the Australian Boomers’ 82-70 win over the Czech Republic in the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA World Cup from NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria.

 

CZECH MATE

We all felt it.

With the scores tied midway through the third quarter of last night’s Quarter-Final clash with the Czech Republic, an uncomfortable feeling crept in for everyone supporting the green and gold.

It had to be there for the players as well.

This game was a box to be ticked for the Boomers – a loss would’ve been an out-and-out disaster – and the Czechs were making things difficult.

Their switching D had stifled the Aussies in the opening half and every time the good guys started to draw away, their resilient opponents clawed their way back.

But this Boomers squad is made of strong stuff and when push came to shove midway through that third term, the Aussies landed a series of killer blows, blowing the game open with a scintillating 14-0 run.

It was triggered by the starters and after head coach Andrej Lemanis rung the changes during a Czech time-out, the Boomers reserves – NBL stars Andrew Bogut, Chris Goulding, Nick Kay and Mitch Creek – continued the assault.

That group, along with 2009 NBL champion Joe Ingles, got stops on four of the next five defensive possessions and with Bogut and Goulding flowing offensively, they blew the margin out to 17.

“It’s always just humbling how great the guys are,” Lemanis stated postgame, reflecting on his squad’s impressive second-half response.

“The way they play for one another and the way they stick together through highs and lows, there’s never any finger-pointing it’s always about finding solutions. It’s just a wonderful group to be with. It’s inspiring.”

A 9-0 run by the Czechs either side of three-quarter time made things interesting down the stretch. But the Boomers held firm, eventually claiming the win by 12 to advance to the medal rounds.

Box ticked. On to the next one: a shot at Rio redemption.

“The job’s not finished for us,” Lemanis said.

“We finished fourth at the Olympics and that was a terrible feeling. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity now and we need to ensure that we do everything we can to take advantage of this opportunity.”

 

MVP!

The Boomers were once again led at the offensive end by the brilliance of our lord and saviour Patty Mills.

One of the front-runners for tournament MVP, Mills finished with a game-high 24 points (on 6-of-9 shooting from long range) while also contributing a team-high 6 assists.

When Australia’s offence was sputtering in the first half, Patty got us going, scoring 13 of Australia’s first 15 points. At half time he had 16 on 66 percent shooting while every other Boomer had combined for 17 on a miserable 26 percent (h/t @KanePitman).

Then, continuing his incredibly clutch World Cup play, Mills closed the game out with a couple of final-minute daggers.

 

 

Mills is now averaging 22.2 points a game to be the tournament’s third leading scorer, narrowly behind South Korea’s Guna Ra aka Ricardo Ratliffe (23.0) and New Zealand’s Corey Webster (22.8).

The thing is, it’s not just how many points Patty’s been scoring in China that’s been impressive. It’s how and when he’s been scoring them.

Nobody in the tournament has been more clutch and few have been more efficient, with Mills putting up insane 50–40–90 shooting clips. That’s despite every opposing team’s defensive schemes being geared around trying to contain him.

Of course, no man is an island – especially not on this team – and the Boomers have skilfully executed their sets to find Patty the ball in scoring situations.

That being said, he’s also done his thing – providing the Aussies with a genuine create-my-own-shot closer to finish off games.

Patty was born in Canberra. He’s a product of the Australian Institute of Sport (now Basketball Oz’s Centre of Excellence). He’s also a national sporting icon and a proud, active ambassador for Indigenous Australians. I mean, c’mon… carve that man a statue, already! And when it’s built, plonk that thing right in the middle of our nation’s capital.

 

BOGUT WAS BIG

Here’s a running diary of Andrew Bogut’s massive contributions during the second half last night.

Third quarter:

4:20 … checks in with the Boomers up 5, patrols the paint and talks a couple of Czechs out of shooting. Turnover.

3:42 … whips a pin-point cross-court pass to a wide-open Chris Goulding. Splash.

3:34 … slides across and takes a charge.

3:11 … dimes up Nick Kay out of the post. Aussies up 10.

2:41 … finishes a lob from Ingles. (This was a tough finish, by the way. That lob was awkwardly low and Bogues did a great of getting that thing up and in.)

1:48 … kisses a righty-hook off the glass from the block. Heat check!

0:00 … subs out with the Boomers leading by 15. What an enormous four-minute contribution.

Fourth quarter:

5:35 … checks back in, Boomers up 12.

4:05 … scores back-to-back baskets off tasty dishes from Mills. Left hand? Right hand? How do you want it?

3:09 … back-door pass sails out of bounds. Move along, nothing to see here.

2:37 … spins baseline to score out of the block. Boomers back up 11. Checks out with Boomers going small to close it out.

 

 

Bogut played only six minutes in the second half last night but they were six of the biggest minutes he’s ever played for Australia, helping to secure the Boomers’ first ever trip to the medal rounds at a World Cup.

In his 12 total minutes on the night, he put up 10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks, with the Boomers outscoring the Czechs by a dozen while he was in the game.

And it’s not just what he did on the floor, either. Word out of the Boomers camp is that ‘Bogues’ played a key role in preventing complacency within the group.

“I learned a long time ago, especially in Rio: if you look ahead in these tournaments, you shoot yourself in the foot,” he told foxsports.com.au postgame.

“This is the kind of game we would’ve lost years ago as part of the national team. We thought we accomplished something coming into a game like this, and we would’ve squandered it.

“Professional win by us, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

 

THE GOULDING TOUCH

Speaking of contributions off the bench, how about the play of Chris Goulding?

The Melbourne United star has played his role to perfection throughout this World Cup campaign, providing instant offence of the pine while playing locked-in, high-energy D.

Last night Goulding’s offensive punch was a major key to victory.

His five points in the second period provided welcome relief when things were a little dry while his three third-quarter triples helped fuel the game-winning run.

Goulding finished as the Boomers’ second leading scorer with 14 points, adding yet another line to his already-lengthy 2019 World Cup statement.

 

 

THE JOB’S NOT DONE YET

All of this winning has provided the Aussies with the opportunity they’ve been craving ever since that heartbreaking loss in Rio three years ago: a rematch with Spain with a medal on the line.

A spot on the medal dais awaits the winners of Friday night’s Semi-Finals and the Boomers are hell-bent on ensuring that they’ll be playing off for gold.

A chance at redemption against the Spaniards only adds fuel to that fire.

“I don’t think it needs to be spoken about specifically because everyone’s aware of it,” Lemanis explained.

“In many ways that hurt has driven the passion and focus for this particular tournament and the commitment to it.”

The Boomers vets have often referred to “the ultimate goal” when talking to the media during this campaign. “Unfinished business” has been another favourite phrase.

With all that in mind, it makes sense that there was very little celebrating after their Quarter-Final victory. After all, that was a tick-the-box ball game. Now they’re two wins away from gold.

“One of the first things I heard when I got back to the locker room was guys saying, ‘the job’s not done yet,’” Lemanis added.

“The focus is there and we just need to prepare for Spain as we prepare for anybody else… We’ll come up with a game plan that we think gives us a chance for success and then go out there and execute it.”

Good luck, boys. We’re right behind you.

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